Q: I have seven years of experience running the teen department (programming, outreach, cataloging, and collection development), as well as assisting with all children’s programs and story times at a public library, as a Library Aide. I actually started the teen department as there was not one previously. I loved my job but we had to move for family reasons. I do understand that normally the person who has these duties also has an MLS and a Librarian position. This was not the case at my library, as our only accredited librarian was our director.
I now work at a small library in circulation as a Library Associate. I miss programming and working with children and teens terribly and am desperate to get back into those duties, which won’t happen at my current job. I’m not looking to get an MLS just because of the debt I would have to accrue and because I am the only financial provider in our family and have to continue working. I also am not looking to run a whole department, I know I’ll never have that opportunity again without an MLS, just have some programming duties and perhaps cover story times when the Librarian is away.
While I know my work experience is not worthless in getting a future youth services job, I feel I need more to up my chances in this less than flourishing job market. What educational program would be best for me to pursue?
CNW: It sounds as though you have a lot of experience doing work you love – just not the credentials that are typically required for such roles. You have several options and I would encourage you to explore all of them before concluding that the work you want is out of reach.
Firstly, I’d encourage you to research and apply to MLS programs. It is possible to find low(er)-cost, part-time, flexible programs, including online degrees. You may qualify for financial aid to minimize debt, though I agree with your assessment that debt is a likely outcome and encourage you to evaluate debt loads carefully in terms of the potential payoff of earning a degree. Without doing some research, however, you won’t know what you can qualify for. You should also look to local community colleges that might offer master’s-level degrees in related areas, such as education. Many libraries will consider equivalent credentials in place of the MLS, though not all. As you explore your options, keep in mind that many degree programs are designed for students who work full-time.
Alternatively, you could consider a certification program in youth services or programming. Certificates don’t carry the same weight as a master’s degree, so it would not be a substitute for the MLS, however. IT certifications are unlikely to help you obtain the kind of work you want, though those are usually considered the most comparable to library science degrees.
Secondly… don’t assume that you can’t get the youth services job you covet without the MLS. Many small libraries don’t have the resources to pay for librarians and are trying to get by with paraprofessionals. Any time you see “MLS preferred” rather than “required” in a job listing you should consider applying. If the requirement is not stated explicitly, consider applying anyway. While you may be up against some stiff competition, many employers would choose substantive experience and enthusiasm over a degree, though you can expect to be offered a lower salary than a degree-holder.
Thirdly, ask yourself whether the work you want to do has to take place within the context of a library. Youth programming services are offered by community groups, K-12 schools and other government-funded social services. You may find a way to bridge your love of literature and youth services through non-library venues. Or, you might consider looking for a volunteer role or part-time paid work – either of which would demonstrate your continuing interest in youth programming and services, and help you stand out in a crowded job market.